How And Why To Practice Scales

Picking scales with a metronome is boring, right? But it's super effective for developing hand synchronization!

View the full lesson at How And Why To Practice Scales | JustinGuitar

Hi. I have 2 scales on my practice schedule. I want to learn the different modes of each scale so I can improvise better. what bpm should I go for before learning a new mode?

Hi Ariel and welcome to the Community. Have you listened to the lesson all the way through and read the notes that come with it? Your questions are all answered there.

Hello @arielmine and welcome to the community. Feel free to pop in to the Community Hub and introduce yourself there. Community Hub - JustinGuitar Community

If I may pull you up short and tell you to stop right there. I presume the two scales you are practicing are the minor pentatonic scale and the major scale Justin teaches in the beginner modules.

The lesson under discussion here is about using the scale practice in a strict and regimented manner to develop good coordination between your hands - technique.

It is also vital to be aware that you need to use the scale patterns that you already know to make music, to improvise, to have fun, to be creative and experimental. Justin introduces the concept here: Major Scale Improvisation |

But here’s the thing. You should never learn more scales than you can use to make music with. There are five patterns of each of the minor pentatonic and major scales respectively and twelve keys to practice them in - though realistically as a guitarist you could happily get away with just five or so keys out of twelve.

Unless and until you have fluency in those, you should avoid looking beyond and at modes. Here’s Justin’s take on it. When NOT To Learn Scales... |

Cheers :blush:
| Richard_close2u | JustinGuitar Official Guide & Moderator


In his scale lessons I’ve seen Justin recommend an ultimate target of 16th notes at 120 BPM and 16th notes at 160 BPM. Do you have a view on which I should be eventually aiming for?

He also suggests that when you get to that kind of speed you should probably use other practice techniques to further increase speed. Do you have any suggestions as to what theu might be? Learning licks perhaps?


Hi @john90 ,

Here’s what Justin writes under “Learn more”:

If you get up to 160 BPM, then play 4 notes per metronome click. We call this 16th Note. It’s going to take a while to get to that speed. Don’t worry if you are not playing at 160 BPM after a week, a month, or even a year!

Here he is talking about 160 bpm, two notes per click, at which point he advises to go to 4 notes per click (he doesn’t say it, but it’s implied that when you go to 4 notes per click, you set the metronome back at 80 bpm). His last sentence also refers to 160 bpm, 2 notes per click (I believe). Have you already reached this goal? If so, congratulations!

As for going even faster, I usually let the songs I’m trying to learn dictate how fast I have to play. For example, I have tried to learn Wipeout, but am still working on getting it up to speed (around 150 bpm eighth notes).

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Wouldn’t you need to set the metronome to 40bpm to play 160bpm at 4 notes per click?

No. The assumption is you’re already playing 160 bpm, 2 notes per click. That is the same as 80 bpm, 4 notes per click. (You halve the bpm, but double the notes per click.)

OK. So you’re playing 320 notes per minute? That’s quick!

Thanks @jjw1 . Yes, using songs to improve speed makes sense to me. In the video for that lesson Justin suggests aiming for 120bpm 16th notes at most so I felt the later reference to 160bpm was slghtly ambiguous. Think I’m clear now however.

OK. So you’re playing 320 notes per minute? That’s quick!

I’m not, but yeah. More than 5 notes per second, that’s going pretty quick.

Another question about pickiing speed. When it comes to increasing speed, I only practice position 1 of the major scale. I practice the other positions to get them ‘under my fingers’ but I just don’t have time to get them up to the same speed as when using position 1. How does everyone else practice the other positions (not to mention major & minor pentatonics?)

Hi John,
I practice my scales a bit every day, and mainly focus on accuracy, … it goes a bit faster without me focusing on that,. for build up speed I use licks that must / can be played quickly, … … bit by bit every day/week/month a little faster when I apply them in a backing track,…have fun :sunglasses:


Thanks Roger. The truth that accuracy trumps speed is one it has taken me some time to take on board!

Hi John, in my opinion as Rogier mentioned best is to practice any scales against a backing track, make it melodic, play it in small sections, forwards and backwards. After all in the future you aim to sound melodic, as Justin mentioned in one of his videos no one wants to hear you ripping out a scale in front of the Albert Hall :grinning: all the best and good luck!

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Hi John,
Good question. I recently started on position 2 of the major scale. Until now I had been obsessing over getting my picking speed up to the 150BPM Justin advises to aim for. In the last couple of days I’ve moved away from speed and am now focussing on accurate finger placement as well as identifying the Root, 3rd and 5th notes within the scale.

I found one of Justin’s old lessons on scales where he advises saying “chord tone”, either in your head or out loud, each time you land on the root, 3rd and 5th notes. I actually say “root”, “third” or “fifth” in my head when I land on those notes. That has necessitated slowing down a bit. I think that’s a much more important thing to nail down than speed.

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Here’s Justin’s major scale pattern diagrams. I’ve highligted the CAGED chord shapes within the 5 patterns. Notice all the chord notes are either R, 3 or 5.

The only reason the C chord shape is in green on the bottom diagram is so it can be distinguished from the D chord shape, as they overlap.

Note that the numbers on the top row are finger numbers and on the bottom row are the note numbers. It’s easy to get confused by this!


Hi Adrian, and @john90
Maybe I wasn’t clear, but I don’t practice scales over backing tracks,(At least not consciously)…I use them as a warm-up and often just in between because I like them,…usually in 3rds or 4 in a row enzo,… licks against it I play in backing tracks, looper or Justin or You-tube,

And I also want to add that all 5 patterns do not make sense to practice if the first one is not perfectly applicable to you, then the next,…months later the next one etc…(Justin`s advice)…

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That’s really useful @jacksprat. Thanks.

Can someone please clarify something for me? When practicing scales, are we supposed to be only touching the string we are picking or do the fingers lay a little flat and touch lower strings as we go? The reason I ask is that my fingers and wrist go into an alien position while trying to only touch the intended string especially on thick strings and when using the pinky- I have to strain to ring clear notes and it causes the back of my wrist to be sore. In the lesson videos it looks quite effortless to work up and down the frets, but I must be doing something wrong.